Monthly Archives: February 2015

For me? You are too kind.

The Sacramento Bee will be doing a yearlong series on almonds. I can only understand this as meant for my personal gratification, presumably because I was good in a past life. May I suggest some stories I would love to see in this series? I will keep a running list here.

A story on the rise of almonds in our food. I believe our current levels of almond consumption are nearly entirely an artificially created demand. This reveals my crotchety aged self, but I remember when breakfast cereals didn’t have almonds in them and we ate them with cow’s milk, dagnabbit. Trail mix used to be peanuts and raisins, not almonds, white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. Someone at the almond board has done an incredible job and I would love to read more about that person.

A compare and contrast between the original almond growers up near Chico and the new growers (last decade or so) in the San Joaquin. You could get some very nice Quainte Olde pictures of family farms in orchards up near Chico.

Used to be, there were two nut processors in the state, Blue Diamond and um, that other one. Are there more now? What happens to an almond when it leaves the orchard? Are the new large-scale growers vertically integrated?

What happens at the end of the production life of an almond orchard?  There are a lot of irrigation equipment and trees to dispose of.  I don’t suppose those trees can be burned, considering air quality management rules (maybe I am wrong).  So what does happen?  How will that work when three hundred thousand acres of new almond trees age out within five or ten years of each other?

As I look at the quote about Mr. Guadian’s 150 acres, I wonder who is financing the almond expansion.  Who on earth would loan him $500,000 to dig a well, when (I assume) the collateral is land that will become worthless when the well goes dry?  (My guess is that the land is mortgaged as well.)  What bank is doing that?  How is this different from the housing crisis?  For that matter, like the housing crisis, how is the bank prepared to re-possess and clean up tens of thousands of acres of dead almond orchards?

As I think of more, I will leave them here.  Thank you so much, Sacramento Bee!

Another idea! (March 3) How California almonds drove out production in the rest of the world. Was it pure price undercutting? Spain, Turkey, Iran all used to grow almonds. There is a reason those horrible wedding favors are called Jordan almonds. What happened when Californian almonds came into the market?

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Twelve years is a very short time.

The Sacramento Bee proposes to write a yearlong series on almonds in California. I will be reading that with great interest. I was disappointed, however, by their close in a recent editorial.

No one can tell farmers what to grow or not grow. The market decides that. We all eat what they produce. But water is a shared necessity. Even if California muddles through this drought, a most basic question lingers: How will it divide water … 20 and 30 years from now?

This is, of course, wrong.  It is true that we do not currently tell farmers what to grow, that we let farmers assess their chances in a market and accept their profits and losses independently.  In that sense, we do not tell farmers what to grow.  But we could tell them what they may and may not do with the water that belongs to the State as a whole, although we have issued some rights to use it in some conditions to private citizens.

I have read Felicia Marcus say that they are not looking at crop-specific bans (my paraphrase, and apologies for not finding the link), which I suspect is an allusion to almonds.  Without specifically naming almonds, however, the State Board could find that in our new more variable climate, it is not reasonable to plant (or irrigate) permanent crops like trees and vines in a basin with declining groundwater levels.

I like this approach for two reasons.  First, it is true.  It is not reasonable to grow trees that need a fixed amount of water every year when the amount of available surface water is wildly variable and the buffer of groundwater is going away in the lifespan of the tree.  Second, it could bring big players to the table as agencies form their new groundwater management plans.  There is an out for people who want to grow permanent crops in that rule; they could locate in groundwater basins that are being adequately recharged.  Or, they could find ways to bring their own basins into balance.  The rule ‘no trees or vines overlying an overdrafted groundwater basin’ could end the race to dig the deepest well. It could prevent stories like this:

Guadian … bought his own farm seven years ago, planting 150 acres of almonds near Mendota. Last year, he invested $500,000 to drill a 1,100-foot well on his property.

Guadian says the well water is too salty for planting cantaloupes or tomatoes or most other vegetables without blending it with surface water supplies or paying for costly purification that could wipe out profits. But his almond trees like the well water. And now he’s thinking of buying another 150 acres nearby to grow pistachios.

Still the old farmer wonders about the future. “What’s going to happen in 12 years when my well goes dry?” he asks, then answers. “Those trees are going to die.”

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